Jack Penate - Birmingham Irish Centre
Sporting a cap and one of his trademark checked shirts, Jack Penate is met with a reception usually reserved for more seasoned performers. The hardworking chap has been plugging away at this game for a while though, name-checking as he does a support slot with Hot Chip at this very venue a whole twelve months ago. You get the feeling that those at the front are the hardcore Penate fanclub, the remainder of the patrons being drawn in by the hype, thus explaining the gig's 'sold out' status. Good for Penate then but a bit rubbish for those who've bought a ticket; the Irish Centre, despite having friendly bar staff and zero sound quality problems, is a poor venue. The space is school hall/social club chic, the stage small enough that only earlybirds are treated to a good view, and the lack of air conditioning making a full house like tonight unbearably hot. Boo hoo, right? Well, at least hype is there for a reason sometimes.
This is a point driven home when he launches into Spit at Stars, an early single that encapsulates both Penate's likeable persona as well as his rocksteady pop sound. In fact, if the venue wasn't so stifling, I'm sure the crowd en masse would have joined Penate in pulling their best 'drunken dad dancing' moves. The energy and enthusiasm Penate displays is reason enough to recommend catching him live, one front-row fan being so impressed that he/she challenges him to a dance-off. However, there's a better reason: the music itself. The ska influence and the estuary English recalls both Lily Allen and Jamie T, meaning mainstream success should be a cert. Although he doesn't manage to match Jamie T for innovation or perhaps out-and-out songwriting talent, Penate still has the goods. The gig certainly achieves its prime aim of showcasing tracks from debut album Matinee, out tomorrow and reviewed here later this week, and these are performed with zest by Penate and his drummer and bassist. They all share the same Housemartins guitar that has given his singles such an 'original' sound but are also infused with a charming lyrical slant that proves both street savvy and decidedly uncool; one minute, he's singing about being mugged and then declaring his undying love to 'Yvonne' or even mother.
It's a good job us Brits can stomach a mommy's boy then, as the end of the night brings with it the solid proof, if futher was needed, that Penate is on the cusp of similar chart success to friend and fellow indie-popster, Kate Nash. The rockabilly of single Torn on the Platform is the perfect excuse for a singalong, although Penate's own soulful vocal still impresses over the din. The obligatory comedy Live Lounge cover, a version of Beats International's Dub Be Good to Me, is a fun diversion but the best is saved until last. New single Second, Minute or Hour, which was his limited edition debut single before he signed to the XL label, merits the re-release. The stuttering guitar and catchy melodies make this jaunty bop a fine close to the night, and no doubt motivated many in attendance (if they managed to survive the overpowering smell of BO that marred the latter part of the gig; thank you, smoking ban!) to purchase the album first thing tomorrow. Go on, join 'em.